Pan­thers hope hu­mil­i­at­ing loss to Steel­ers is just a blip

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY SCOTT FOWLER

sfowler@char­lot­teob­server.com

The Carolina Pan­thers had their minds on a cer­tain type of pie af­ter get­ting blitzed 52-21 by Pitts­burgh Thurs­day night.

“I’ll tell you what, it sure enough was a hum­bling piece of pie,” Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton said af­ter the 31-point loss.

“This is a nice dose of hum­ble pie for us to­day,” Pan­thers linebacker Thomas Davis said.

So af­ter get­ting them­selves served on a plat­ter to the Steel­ers, the Pan­thers now don’t have an­other game un­til Nov. 18, when they go on the road again at Detroit. They – and their fans – have to sit on this one a long time.

So the most rel­e­vant over­all ques­tion to pon­der dur­ing this mini-break is this: Was that a blip on the radar Thurs­day night, or was that the first sign of a huge storm that’s com­ing and is about to wipe out the Pan­thers’ power for the rest of the sea­son?

It re­ally could go ei­ther way at this point. Carolina is 6-3 and re­mains firmly in the play­off race. But the sort of beat­down the Pan­thers took Thurs­day night showed ev­i­dence of a de­fense that sud­denly looked old and out­matched and an of­fen­sive line that fi­nally came down off the moun­tain and sank into the val­ley that had long been pre­dicted for it this sea­son.

“This (ex­ple­tive) hap­pens,” Pan­thers coach Ron Rivera said a few min­utes af­ter the game. “And I’m go­ing to put it just like that. ...This is my 30th year in the NFL. ...I told the play­ers in the locker room, ‘At the end of the day, get this one out of your sys­tem and move for­ward.’ We as coaches have got to go to work, fig­ure out what hap­pened, get those things cor­rected and start pre­par­ing for the next team. And that’s the only thing we can do. I’m not go­ing to go in there and beat them (the play­ers) down. They’re down al­ready.”

And they were down, as they should have been af­ter los­ing a game in which they al­lowed seven dif­fer­ent Steel­ers to score touch­downs. It wasn’t a great sur­prise that Pitts­burgh (6-2-1) won – the Steel­ers are in first place in the AFC North – but the mar­gin was a shocker. The Pan­thers had en­tered the game on a three-game win streak, and had won the most re­cent two by dou­ble-digit

mar­gins. Then to give up what tied for the most points in fran­chise his­tory – Oak­land also scored 52 again­stCarolina in 2000 – was a ma­jor prime-time flop.

“I think we re­al­ize now that maybe this isn’t so easy, right?” Pan­thers tight end Greg Olsen said. “I think guys all of a sud­den start win­ning and think things are so easy and ev­ery­thing is hunky­dory. This league is hard. This league will hum­ble you real fast.

“Hope­fully, that’s the les­son we get out of tonight. (The game) still only counts for one loss. They don’t count how much you lose by - thank­fully.”

Here is a sil­ver lin­ing from Thurs­day, though: The Pan­thers didn’t ap­pear to sus­tain ma­jor in­juries. I wor­ried about New­ton in par­tic­u­lar. He was sacked five times but it seemed more like a dozen.

New­ton seemed OK af­ter the game, though, and said the right sorts of things about bounc­ing back from the loss.

“Just got whupped, man,” New­ton said when I asked him in his news con­fer­ence what had just hap­pened. “Just got whupped. But you know - it hap­pens. You’ll have those type of games in the league. It’s go­ing to be about how we re­bound and get ready for our next op­po­nent.”

I thought New­ton should have been benched for the en­tire fourth quar­ter – there was no point in risk­ing in­jury at that junc­ture. Rivera com­pro­mised by keep­ing New­ton in for part of the fourth quar­ter but then try­ing to play it safe, with hand­offs and quick drops.

“It don’t mat­ter, bro,” New­ton said when asked about it. “My job is to be the best foot­ball player pos­si­ble. If I’m still in there, then I am still sup­posed to be in there. I’m not go­ing to com­plain or bicker about it.”

New­ton ended up throw­ing at least two TD passes for the eighth con­sec­u­tive game, set­ting a team record. Al­though he had a nasty pick-six in­ter­cep­tion early in the game, in gen­eral New­ton wasn’t the is­sue.

The is­sues were end­less: The Pan­thers got thumped on both lines, and their sec­ondary gave up two touch­downs of more than 50 yards, and Carolina’s coaches were thor­oughly out­coached.

Maybe it’s just one game. Maybe the Pan­thers can fig­ure it out.

“The way we came out and got smacked to­day,” wide re­ceiver Jar­ius Wright said, “makes you never want to get smacked like that again.”

But they bet­ter fig­ure it out quickly. Be­cause the Pan­thers still play New Or­leans twice in their fi­nal seven games.

“We can’t pre­tend it didn’t hap­pen,” Olsen said. “Be­cause it did - and it hap­pened for a rea­son. If we don’t get bet­ter, when we play good teams, it will hap­pen again.”

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scot­t_­fowler

JEFF SINER jsiner@char­lot­teob­server.com

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